Wednesday, March 30, 2011

From Humble Beginnings....

A blogger I follow recently showed a picture of her beautiful country kitchen, it was roomy with plenty of work space.

My kitchen?  Not so much. Small, cramped with room for one, barely. No giant kitchen with acres of gleaming granite and stainless steel.

Yet I manage,  on a hand-me-down stove/oven and a work space that is barely 3' wide.  And you know what? It works for me!   

The dishes are done, a loaf of bread is rising on the counter.... life is good!

Someday I may have that nice kitchen, but for now, I'll keep my tiny kitchen and keep cooking for you!

Until next time, Eat Well & Keep Digging!

The Gastronomic Gardener
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Monday, March 28, 2011

Meatless Monday - Caramelized Onion Tart with tomatoes

Here is a winner for Meatless Monday.

Sometimes I romanticize food, the smells, the textures, the memories or feelings it evokes. Savory tarts are one of those foods. They are easy to make, yet so different from normal fare around here. 

A room temperature savory tart, a bit of crisp greens, a glass of wine, and I could be many places other than a suburb of Chicago.

A while back I made a pizza with duck breast prosciutto and caramelized onion.  I keep going back to the onions, they were so sweet and rich.

Let's make a tart. Traditionally we would make a short crust pastry (a Pâte brisée) and we will show that one of these days, but today I'm going with an adaption of a recipe from over at Chocolate and Zucchini, (a fantastic foodie website that has been around since 2003! Go check it out.) It is nontraditional in that it calls for olive oil and whole wheat flour. A bit different than "normal" but very quick and easy. If you want to use the traditional crust, by all means - please do!

For the Tart (Makes enough to line a 11- to 12-inch tart pan.)

8.8 ounces (about 2 cups but since I have a scale, I'll use it) 50/50 mix of all-purpose and whole wheat , plus more for dusting the work surface
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dried herbs (I used Herbs de Provence)
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup cold water

Grease the pan lightly if it doesn't have a nonstick coating.

Put the flour, salt, and herbs in a medium mixing bowl.

Add the oil and mix with a fork.

Add the water, mix with the fork until it is absorbed, then knead lightly  until the dough comes together into a ball.

Turn the dough out on a lightly floured work surface.

Sprinkle a little flour on the ball of dough and on the rolling pin, and roll the dough out into a circle large enough to fit your tart pan.

Add a little more flour on theboard or on the top when it seems like it is getting sticky.

Be fast about it, you don't want to overwork the dough as it would be tough.

Transfer the dough carefully into the prepared pan and line it neatly. Clearly this is not my forte. We'll call it a "rustic" tart!

Trim the excess dough, and place the pan in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to rest.

You can then blind-bake the crust (prick with a fork first), or fill it right away, depending on the filling.

In any event, it will take 20 to 25 minutes at 400°F to bake thoroughly.

For the Filling:
4-6 cups of sliced onions
1 large tomato sliced (optional)
2 tbs butter - or oil (or a combination)
1 tsp coarse salt
8 oz of cream cheese softened (goat cheese would be spectacular!)
1 tsp Herbs de Provence
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1-2 tbs Balsamic vinegar

In a small bowl, combine cream cheese, herbs, and garlic powder thoroughly. Set aside.

Slice the onions. They sure are pretty.

In a heavy pan add the butter and oil over medium high heat until the butter stop foaming

Add the onions, sprinkle with salt.  Stir.  It looks like a lot, but will cook down a great deal.

Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring often. You don't want them to crisp, just wilt and melt into super tender bits. Cook for about 20-30 minutes. If they start to brown too much reduce heat.

While onions cook, Preheat oven to 400F

When onions are limp and cooked, add balsamic vinegar and stir.  Stir occasionally until onions are caramelized. Remove from heat, and allow to cool. They can be warm but you don't want them to be hot.

Assemble the Tart.
Spread or drop small balls of the cream cheese mixture evenly over the bottom of tart shell.

Spoon the onions evenly over the cheese.

Place tomato slices (if using) over the onions.

Bake in preheated oven - 20 -25 minutes.

Remove from oven  and cool for 10 minutes - or allow to come to room temperature.

Cut into wedges, drizzle with olive oil and vinegar (the acid makes it better) and serve with greens.

Add crusty bread and a crisp white wine for a complete dinner!

Until next time, Eat Well & Keep Digging!

The Gastronomic Gardener
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Sunday, March 27, 2011

You can now easily print the recipes

It's not earth shattering news, but  it resolves one of my pet peeves. I wanted readers to be able to simply print recipes, without the pictures.

Well now you can! The handy little print friendly widget is now installed, print away! It's the little green button after each post. You can print, print to pdf, even remove the images.

This is an uncompensated endorsement, I'm just happy have that little issue resolved!

The Gastronomic Gardener
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Monday, March 21, 2011

Meatless Monday - Spaghetti Cacio e Pepe

Meatless Monday - let's keep it very simple. What could be more simple than pasta with cheese and black pepper aka Spaghetti Cacio e Pepe? Not much.  The simple combination of pasta, fresh grated Pecorino Romano,  ground black pepper, and pasta water really is an example of the whole being greater than the sum of all the parts.

Basics ingredients:
1 pound dried spaghetti
4 ounces Pecorino Romano cheese,
1 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

Additional  ingredients:
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1.5 - 2 cups  pasta cooking water

Grate the cheese.

Cook spaghetti in well-salted water to just short of al dente in a large pot. 

While pasta is cooking,  I put together a quick salad, romaine, sweet mini peppers, carrot, kalamata olives. Pretty, isn't it?

Drain spaghetti, reserving 1 1/2 cups of pasta cooking water.

Dry out the pot, then heat the olive oil over high heat hot but not smoking.

Add drained spaghetti and 1 cup of reserved pasta water. Be Careful! This will spatter and spit!

Add butter, 3 ounces cheese and ground pepper and toss together with tongs. It will come together and become a creamy sauce, hopefully coating each strand of pasta.

Taste, adding more pasta water, cheese, pepper to taste. You don't need salt, the cheese is quite salty already.

Serve immediately, sprinkling with reserved cheese and extra black pepper.

It's creamy with a little bite, simply delicious!

Until next time, Eat Well & Keep Digging!

The Gastronomic Gardener
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Posole Rojo

It's cold and rainy. Probably not many cold days left, so the hearty soup / stew season is moving behind us. Perhaps one last hurrah before we go with somewhat lighter fare? What better way to send it off than with Posole Rojo?

Posole rojo is a rich red chili broth with shredded pork and hominy. A colleague of mine has brought it to work a few times, given me a recipe and now I'll give it a shot. I won't follow her recipe  to the letter, as I've looked up a few versions on line.

The stew gets it's name from the Hominy  - a large kernel  dried corn which has been soaked in slaked line to remove the skin and germ. It has been used by Native American cultures for a long time and it is common in southern and Mexican cooking.

Here is my take based on a combination of recipes. You could use chicken for a lighter dish.

4 lbs more or less of pork - shoulder or country style ribs ( the meat shouldn't be too lean)
3 15oz cans of hominy drained and rinsed
1 bunch of cilantro tied
10 cups water
1 to 1.5 heads of garlic peeled  and divided
1 tsp oregano
1 large white onion - quartered (plus 1/2 cup more chopped for chili mixture)
5 whole peppercorns
2 oz  dried New Mexico Chilies - (wiped off)
2 oz dried ancho chilis - (wiped off)
2 tsp salt
2-3 Tbs oil


In large pot add the pork and the water. Bring to a boil. skim off any scum, reduce heat to a simmer.

Add cilantro about 20 cloves of garlic, quartered onion, oregano, salt and simmer uncovered until pork is very tender - about 2 hours.

While the  pork simmers, put a kettle of water on to boil.

Stem and seed the chilies.

Roast the chilies in a dry cast iron pan over medium heat until they get a little softer and the color changes slightly.

Transfer the chilies to a bowl and pour 2.5 cups boiling water over the top, cover bowl with a plate and allow to soften for half an hour.

Puree the chilies with 1.5 cups of the soaking liquid the chopped onion, 5-6 more cloves of garlic  and 3/4 tbs salt in a blender until a smooth paste forms.


In the heavy pan you roasted the chilies in, heat oil  over medium heat. Add the chili puree (careful! it may spatter) cook  for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally; it will thicken up. remove from heat and set aside.

When pork is done simmering (2+ hours) remove pork to a platter, strain broth into large enough container to hold it all. Discard the cilantro and peppercorns.

Transfer the garlic and onion  with 1.5 cups of broth to a food processor or blender and puree.

Pour the broth and puree back into the large pot.

Shred the pork and discard the bones - add the shredded pork back to the broth.

Rinse and drain the hominy.

Add the chili puree and the hominy , stir well, simmer for 30 more minutes - or a few hours.

Serve hot with fried tortilla strips,

diced avocado, shredded lettuce, lime wedges, or diced onion as garnish.

This is a satisfying if time consuming dish. Perfect for a cold and damp day!

Until next time, Eat Well & Keep Digging!

The Gastronomic Gardener
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Thursday, March 17, 2011

Pan fried tilapia with lemon butter caper sauce

It's difficult to believe that I haven't posted anything with Tilapia yet. Sometimes referred to as aquatic chicken, Tilapia has become almost ubiquitous in the market. I'll give it this, it is inexpensive, cooks quickly, but is pretty bland. It is however a staple in our house for a quick weeknight dinner.

The sauce is the star here, tart and rich, with a little bite from the capers.

The lemon juice and butter are in equal proportions, capers in half that amount

2 Tbs Butter
2 Tbs Lemon juice
1 Tbs Capers Drained
5 Tilapia fillets
1/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
2-3 tbs oil
Splash of stock (if needed)

Combine butter, lemon juice and capers in a small sauce pan over low heat.

Preheat a pan over medium heat with the oil.

Combine the flour, salt and pepper in a shallow dish.,

Dredge the fish in the flour mixture, shaking of excess.

Pan fry the fish until lightly browned (about 3-4 minutes per side). If needed place in a warm oven until they are all done.

Plate the fish, spoon the lemon butter caper sauce over the top, and enjoy.

Until next time, Eat Well & Keep Digging!

The Gastronomic Gardener
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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Crock pot duck, slow then fast for tender meat but crispy skin

I pulled a duck out of the freezer a few days ago and needed to cook it. The thing with duck is it normally needs a few hours of roasting, time I don't have on a week night. Who has a few hours to get dinner on the table after an hour commute, picking up the kid(s), and hustling back home? I sure don't.

But then, the duck is thawed and I have to do something with it. Crockpot! The thing is, fowl in a crockpot can be, well... foul, soggy, limp, and totally unappetizing. My challenge is how to avoid that.

Duck naturally has a lot of fat. That's why it is so good!  But if we can raise the duck out of the fat, perhaps we'll be OK.

This was all going down at 5:30am so I can be on the 6:53 train. Wow, coffee and breaking down a duck. Let's start with the duck.

Using shears, remove backbone. Then using a sharp knife cut through the breast.

Cut between the thigh and the breast for 4 pieces.

But how to keep them out of the fat? I have some root vegetables. Let's use those!

I broke them down and got them in the crockpot. This basically formed a rack to lift the duck off the bottom of the crockpot.

Nestle the four duck quarters on top of the root vegetables.

Add a tbs of kosher salt, and a heavy grind of black pepper.

Add a cup of stock or water. Cover. Set on low, this cooked for 11.5 hours. It seems like too long but it was going from cold.

Surprisingly when I got home, there was some slight browning on the top!

To finish it, I heated the oven to 375F, pulled the duck quarters, the carrots and  potatoes,  put them on a foil lined cookie sheet and roasted until the skin was crisp, about 20 minutes.

Plate it up and enjoy! If I had the time I would have separated the fat from the broth and made a sauce, but with hungry people clamoring for dinner, I need to get it served Now!

Until next time, Eat Well & Keep Digging!

I'm using the "scheduled at" posting function, lets see how it works!

The Gastronomic Gardener
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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

March Charcutepalooza Post - The brine

Month three of the Year of Meat, Charcutepalooza. I'm waiting for them to catch up with me as I played with some of the recipes from Charcuterie - Ruhlmans and Polyen book.

January was the duck proscuitto - fabulous with carmelized onions on a pizza.

February was the bacon - I've made a few batches and (shhhh have sold it at 8 buck a pound) it is damn good!

March is the brine, but since I've made the cold smoker I made the pastrami.

And here is the finished result, pastrami on homemade rye with homemade mustard.

So satisfying!

The Gastronomic Gardener
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Monday, March 14, 2011

Meatless Monday - Cheese stuffed mini sweet peppers

Did you ever see the movie Mermaids with Cher, Bob Hoskins, and Winona Ryder? Cher, playing the mother, only knew how to make appetizers for dinner, she never mastered entrees but would do an assortment of snacks.

That's sort of how I felt tonight (well, not quite like Cher). I had planned to make these for yesterday's party but ran out of time with the clock change and all that.

I have some beautiful mini sweet peppers. No, they are not in season, and no, they are not local. But they are gorgeous to look at and very sweet.

Preheat the oven to 350F

Put the peppers into the microwave for a minute or two on high just to soften them slightly.

Meanwhile mix together 12oz or so of cream cheese, (or goat cheese). I added a little bleu cheese I had left over from the chicken wings yesterday, some herbs de provence, and a little garlic powder. Your imagination is your only limiter here.

With a sharp paring knife make a slit the length of the pepper, and squeeze it gently like one of those old rubber change purses. Pack in some of the cheese, put on cookie sheet.

Repeat until you have as many as  you can get (I managed 20 stuffed peppers).

Into the hot oven for 20 minutes until cheese is oozy and peppers are crisp-tender.

I served it with some steamed green beans and rice. And I have plenty for lunch tomorrow!

Until next time, Eat Well & Keep Digging.

The Gastronomic Gardener
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